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EGYPT: Some Copts and Muslims come together during Orthodox Christmas

January 8, 2011 |  9:04 am

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Christian Orthodox Christmas has long been a nettlesome holiday for Egypt's Muslims: Some have taken to extending kind wishes to their Coptic neighbors while others have gone as far as forbidding any celebration of the birth of Christ.

This year's Christmas was a different story, however. The church bombing that left 25 dead and at least 80 injured in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria on New Year's Eve seems to have finally made millions of Muslims aware of the nation's Islamic extremism and dangerous sectarian divide.

In a sign of goodwill, thousands of Muslims attended Christmas masses on Thursday and Friday alongside Christians. "I'm here to tell all my Coptic brothers that Muslims and Christians are an inseparable pillar of Egypt's texture," Mohab Zayed, a Muslim attendee at a Mass in a church in the Heliopolis district of Cairo, told The Times. "Copts have to know that we will share any pains or threats they go through."

A large number of prominent Muslim intellectuals, actors and clergymen also joined Copts in their masses. Adel Imam, the Arab world's most famous actor, and Amr Khaled, a popular islamic preacher, attended Christmas liturgies.

Also on Thursday, hundreds of Muslims organized a candlelight vigil to show solidarity with Copts in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square. Copts had to celebrate Christmas amid both mourning and great security worries as the Ministry of Interior deployed thousands of armored vehicles, no less than 70,000 police officers, metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs around churches across the country.

A campaign initiated by Muslim cultural tycoon Mohamed El Sawy called on Muslims to act as protecting shields outside churches Thursday and Friday. Leaflets were handed out by Muslim volunteers reading "we either live together or die together," referring to Copts and Muslims.

Coptic student Nader Rizkallah was happy to see Muslims get involved in efforts to get closer to Copts. Nonetheless, he wondered if such solidarity will last.

"I'm really glad with the spirit some Muslims have shown this Christmas, but did we have to wait for something disastrous like the Alexandria bombing to get closer? Will we stay this close next Christmas even if no deadly attacks occur before it?" Rizkallah told The Times.

Last week, Coptic Pope Senouda III appealed to the Egyptian government to start tackling the grass-roots of the sectarian problem in Egypt as a first step toward avoiding further attacks and stemming hatred of Copts in Egypt.

Egypt's Copts, who have long complained of inequality and been marginalization by the Muslim majority, amount to 10% of the country's population.

--Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Protesters carry Korans alongside Bibles and crosses in a solidarity demonstration in Cairo. Credit: Associated Press

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